After four years of climate denial under Donald Trump, Joe Biden reverses the American position on global warming on the first day of his mandate.
The return of the United States to the Paris Agreement creates exceptionally favorable conditions for the main carbon emitters – China, the United States and the European Union – to collaborate on this issue.
While the opportunity for cooperation has been highlighted, a parallel phenomenon deserves attention. This is the 2.0 dispute for technologies that will enable the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The competition that matters is not who will become the first carbon neutral. Or who will do better in climate diplomacy. Or who will pose as a hero at the climate conference in Glasgow this year.
The race that counts is for the mastery of technologies that will allow new ways of producing, transporting, consuming, constructing and producing electricity.
The dispute is not new, but it simmered as the occupant of the White House worried about saving the glorious years of coal. The United States has wasted time.
Now, US green technology will be the star of a new chapter in the Sino-US tech rivalry. This time, with the help – and the deep pockets – of the US government. Industrial policy is no longer a bad word in Washington. During the campaign, Biden pledged $ 2 trillion to the green economy during his first term.
On the other side of the world, Chinese state capitalism has never stopped investing in coal – but it has invested heavily, for example, in solar and wind power and in electric vehicles for years. He seeks innovations on several fronts, such as carbon capture technologies.
The new five-year plan 2021-2025 will redouble its efforts to make China dominate the technologies and supply chains that will win over the world as more countries translate their emissions reduction commitments into concrete actions.
The risk is that there will be a replay, on a smaller scale, of the 5G soap opera. The danger is that the rivalry in green technologies takes on the contours characteristic of the confrontation of the Trump years. Like never before, his administration has instrumentalised national security concerns to protect economic interests.
The problem is, even common sense people today don’t know what really poses a risk to US national security. In an effort to protect everything, Americans risk failing to protect anything. And just embrace protectionism.
At the moment, the Chinese are investing, for example, in the application of digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing, to provide environmental solutions.
Alibaba’s “City Brain” has been adopted by several cities to streamline traffic and reduce transportation emissions. Smart grids have increased the efficiency of electricity distribution networks. Robotics has helped in the difficult task of reducing emissions from Chinese manufacturing.
There will certainly be those in the United States who understand that all of this is a major threat to the national security of the country. If TikTok is supposed to be, why shouldn’t these other technologies be? Some would say that only technologies without Chinese components are safe.
Anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, cultivated by Trump, will reverberate under the Biden administration. This will influence this new technological dispute and could undermine efforts to combat global warming.
At the same time as a great opportunity for cooperation in the field of climate opens up, a new competition for the technological field begins. Kept under control, the dispute can accelerate innovative solutions. Otherwise, geopolitics will put climate concerns in the background.
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